Email versus Snail Mail: Which is Better for Your Marketing?

by Jennifer Beever, Marketing Consultant
Copyright New Incite, All Rights Reserved

Many clients ask us whether they should send email or printed “snail mail” to market their products and services. Our answer to that question is, “It depends!”

Both email and snail mail have advantages and disadvantages. Email seems less expensive, but spam blockers and other technology issues can get in the way of delivery. Snail mail can get thrown away by administrative assistants, never to be seen by the intended recipient.

Email and the Problem of Spam
The definition of spam from the MSN/Encarta web site is “an unsolicited, often commercial, message transmitted through the Internet as a mass mailing to a large number of recipients.” Spam has resulted in productivity loss for businesses as employees tried to weed through hundreds of email solicitations. The very possibility that your promotional email could be “spam” can cast whatever message you are trying to get out in a bad light.

We believe that email promotions work only when you send them to people you know or whom you have earned the right to email. Existing clients, prospects and referral sources whom you’ve met, friends and colleagues, are likely to want to hear from you. Others who opt in to your email list are agreeing to receive your messages via email. But if an email recipient doesn’t know you well enough to recognize your name or email address, there is a big chance that they will delete the email as spam and perhaps even block future emails from you.

One exception to this belief might be email solicitations from non-profit industry organizations to industry members. If an association within your industry emails you, you may be more apt to open the email, because people don’t think of associations as entities that are trying to sell something. Rather, they think of them as existing to provide professional development, information, advocacy and lobbying.

To further complicate the question about whether to use email for promotions, some email, if not worded or constructed correctly, will get stopped by spam filters and blockers installed on email servers. Certain words, phrases and behind-the-email technical factors are red flags that get an email blocked – never to be seen by the recipients.

In addition, purchased lists with accurate email addresses are difficult to acquire. People change email addresses frequently. Some change addresses regularly to reduce the amount of spam they receive. Some change when a new standard is implemented at their company. As a result, emailing to a purchased contact list can have a high number of bounce backs and blocked emails.

Email Can be Less Expensive
“But,” our clients cry, “email is so much less expensive than snail mail!”

On the surface, it may appear that email marketing is less expensive. It is less expensive if you get the same results from both email and snail mail when mailing to the same list. When comparing the results of the two campaigns, you need to analyze the quality of the leads – what is ratio of cost to leads generated, or the cost per lead? How many leads does each campaign generate? What is the conversion rate for each campaign (i.e., how many leads from each campaign convert to sales)?

Snail Mail and the Problem of Gatekeepers
Snail mail has some advantages over email. It’s true that snail mail can fall into the hands of “gatekeepers,” administrative assistants who go through their boss’s mail and throw away what they consider junk mail. But if a direct mail piece is business-like and contains an important message, chances are it will get through. A great headline that grabs the recipient, appropriate graphics, and a compelling call to action are all elements of a direct mail piece that will help get results.

Four Styles of Learning
If we look at the four ways people receive information: visually (pictures), verbally (reading), auditorally (hearing) and kinesthetically (touching or doing). Snail mail can accomplish three of the four. Snail mail can include visuals, text to read, and tactile stimulation when the recipient opens the letter or mailer. The latter has impact when your prospects hold your mail piece in their hands and contemplate your message.

In comparison, a basic email does not have an auditory or kinesthetic element, unless you consider clicking on a link to get additional information “doing.” So, it may be possible to create a more elaborate email that appeals to all four ways of receiving information: the recipient can look at graphics, read text, hear streaming audio recording embedded in the program, and click on links to online information.

So what’s the best solution? Use email to keep in contact with people who know you: clients, prospects whom you’ve met, referral sources, friends and colleagues. Don’t email people that you don’t already know – use snail mail instead. That snail mail should be targeted and should have great copy that grabs the recipient and incites them to take action – to call for more information or visit your web site. I recommend using snail mail intermittently with people you know as well – it presents a tactile medium that, in addition to email, can help you keep in touch with your contacts on another level.

Author Jennifer Beever is a marketing consultant and founder of New Incite Marketing Analysis and Design. New Incite is the outsource marketing resource for growing businesses. The company provides marketing planning, implementation, results tracking and organizational development services for its clients. Contact Jennifer at 818-347-4248 or by email.

This article may be reprinted with permission of the author. Please contact Jennifer Beever at 818-347-4248 or by email for permission. Proper acknowledgement of the author, including name, company, and contact information, must be made with use.